Rocker / Momentary / Retractive / Pulse... Light switch confusion

I know that light switch confusion has been discussed in several other posts, and although I’ve learned loads so far, I still don’t completely understand the differences, and what I need!

I am looking to set up smart lighting across all the main rooms in my house, using SM309 or SM314 dimmer modules from Samotech. (The same devices as RGBgenie, or Sunricher).

I am looking to add physical light switches (2-way in some cases), and I have found these which I like -


(from the same company)

What I am predominantly unclear on, is whether rocker switches and retractive switches serve the same purpose. The use of the terminology rocker/momentary/retractive/pulse seems to be quite fluid across forums and articles, and I’m trying to decipher the differences so I know exactly what I’m aiming at.

I would use the physical switches for on/off and for any dimming requirements I would use voice/automation/app.

Thanks in advance for any guidance here.


No. In this case rocker means latching and retractive is correct and means retractive (or push to make/bell push, but retractive is the correct term)

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Different manufacturers use different terminology, so there’s no single answer to your question. In particular, some of the Chinese manufacturers will use the term “rocker“ for what would more commonly be called “retractive” switches so you may just have to verify with the manufacturer how everything works.

Rocker Usually Means a Two Position Latching Switch with a defined on and off position

A rocker switch is usually pressed at the top to turn on and then it stays in that position until pressed again at the bottom to turn off. This is easier to see on US style switches, but I did find an image from Schneider where you can see that one of the switches in a dual gang is in the on position and the other is in the off position.

So if you can look at the switch and tell whether it’s on or off by the switch position, then it’s a rocker. (It “rocks“ from one position to the other.)

This is useful for dumb switches, but not useful for smart switches, because there are many different ways to turn a smart switch on. You might turn it on physically at the wall, you might turn it on with the voice assistant like Echo, You might turn it on with a time schedule, or you might turn it on with an automation like when someone arrives home.

That means that a traditional rocker switch would quite often be out of sync so that when you looked at the switch it might look like it was on but it might actually be off.

Momentary/Retractive Switches work more like a traditional button switch: you press it to change state, but then the switch immediately returns to its resting position, whether it is on or off

In contrast, a momentary switch is designed so that when you physically press it it does move, but it doesn’t hold that new position. Instead, it immediately returns to its resting position.

This means that you can’t tell just by looking at the switch whether it is on or off. But it also means it never gets out of sync. So most smart switches are momentary. These are also called retractive (because the switch retracts to its resting position once the finger is removed.)

This video is in French, but you can see the person physically touch the TKB zwave retractive switch at the top to turn it on and touch it at the bottom to turn it off again. Notice how the switch goes right back to the resting position once his hand is removed each time. So you can’t tell by looking at the switch whether it’s on or off.

The problem is if you just see a picture of the switch in one position, you can’t always tell whether it’s a rocker or retractive. It won’t necessarily be obvious from the design. So you need to either see a video of it in use or you need to ask the manufacturer if it’s not obvious from the product description.

Pulse switches only turn on while the switch is physically held down, like many electric potato chipper devices

A pulse switch is most typically a momentary switch which does not change the state of the device except while the switch is physically being held in position. So a retractive switch turns the light on when you press it, the switch returns to its resting position, but the light stays on until you press the switch again.

A pulse switch turns the device on when you press it, but is soon as you remove your finger the switch returns to its resting position and current is withdrawn from the device.

These are commonly used for motors as a safety feature. You see these on some garbage disposal switches, on potato chippers, on some blenders.

This could be used for a smart switch, although not typically a light. And in most cases anything which isn’t safe to be left with the power on probably isn’t safe to use with Home Automation. But it’s not impossible.

Again, just looking at a photograph may not tell you whether the switch is a pulse switch, a momentary switch, or a latching rocker switch. All three might look identical. It’s only when you see them in operation and you can tell whether the switch pops back to its resting position and whether the state change is maintained when it does, that you know which of the three it is.

(Notice some manufactures use the term “momentary” to mean pulse. That is, as soon as the finger is removed, the switch is off again. But that usually applies to dumb switches. For whatever reasons, Home Automation device manufacturers about 20 years ago started calling retractive switches momentary switches even though the device retains the state change when the hand is removed, so for smart switches, momentary usually means retractive. But for dumb switches it might mean either retractive or pulse.)

I hope that helped. The concept is pretty easy to understand but what applies to any given switch model can be hard to figure out, particularly for product descriptions which are translated from another language, without seeing it in operation.

Just to clarify there is no such thing as pulse switch or bell push or any other term out there there is only latching (stays in the position that you select) or retractive (changes position on the press and returns to the original place).

All the other terms come in from how you USE the switch. As @JDRoberts mentions a press switch would usually be used for safety reasons, it’s still a retractable switch it’s just only powering the device when pressed. Bell push the same but for a bell.

Momentary is just a layman term for retractive.
Rocker is a latching switch but usually means a large flat switch (like your link) but has also been used for the smaller flat ones like the UK uses. You also get “toggle” or “dolly” switches they are also latching but you can get retractive “toggle” switches. Theses are the old fashioned stick out pole with a blob on the end, again in electrical terms (which is where I’m coming from) it’s still a latching or retractable.

Now back to home automation and what you want, is almost always retractive again for all the reasons @JDRoberts gave and for more functionality.

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BTW, those are really nice looking switches! I see the ones that are marked retractive say they work with Fibaro, so they should also work with your in-line micros. :sunglasses:

ok - getting it. Thank you @borristhecat @JDRoberts

So - I’m understanding that rocker switches is the term here for “normal” dumb UK switches. One position for off, one position for on. So NOT what I need.

For retractive switches - that TKB Z-wave switch an interesting example - one side switching a wired load, and one side controlling Z-wave devices. I understand that with that TKB switch you can push it at the top for on or bottom for off; With the switch I am looking at, it only has one button - and then returns to resting position.

It is advertised as working with Fibaro, so I’ve reached out to them for guidance on whether it would work with Samotech.

Would that one push signal to turn the dimmer on or off (depending on whether it was already off or on)?

Thanks again for your help

(Just seen your reply @JDRoberts re Fibaro - thanks)

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Yes not what you need.
But not exactly, “rocker” is mostly the “look” but also normally is latching (one poosition on, one position for off) rather than retractive, but not exclusively.

You can also get centre OFF retractive. Which you can use for Fibaro dimmer 2 s. These are press bottom and press top so they rest in the middle position (theses are best for dimming but not all devices have 2 input’s).

This sounds like centre OFF. If you’re in the UK look at click skolmore mini grid range. I highly recommend them as you can mix and match what ever switch you need. They literally do all different types of switch both in latching and retractive or center off retractive.

Yes they would it’s the same setup, only Fibaro has 2 input’s (you can use just one) and samotech only has one input.

Yes press is a toggle then hold is a toggle up or down depending. This is why 2 input’s are better as it’s easier to use but most only have the option of one.

Those Samotech modules look like quite a find. I am going to order a couple to play with as they are considerably cheaper than the Fibaro ones I normally use. The only downside I can see so far is the size. They are going to be a challenge to fit in anything but the deepest of switch back boxes. I would go for the Zigbee ones. Hopefully they work with a native handler and run locally on ST

The Retrotouch retractive switches also look really good. You definately want to use retractive switches if you can as the work much better with modules. Especially if you plan on dimming. However, the diagrams I see show they need a neutral and this can be an issue at the switch.

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I’ve also been looking at those samotech modules they look very interesting considering all the problems smartthings has with z wave Where’s all my zigbee stuff works all the time.

The difference I see is that you wouldn’t have a choice of switch type as there will be little to no parameters so retractive switchs only also they do not work with a two wire set up so you’ll be needing a neutral.

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The manual for the SM314 shows it will work without a neutral. However the doesn’t really help if the retractive switch needs a neutral. You could pair it with another retractive switch like the MK or Schneider though.

FWIW I have not had issues with my Z-wave mesh. The only related issue was when the multi-endpoint devices stopped working and that was ST incorrectly implementing a specification change. That was fixed quickly and is back to normal now.

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Sorry my bad I have been looking at the sm309 dimmer :blush:

This is interesting looks like samotech has a lot more zigbee products than when I last looked.

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There are so many companies rebadging the RGBGenie/Samotech dimmers that I have no idea who the real maker is.

What I can say is that whilst they do indeed work with Philips Hue they do not get exposed via a Hue Hub as HomeKit devices.

But for this I would have bought them already.

Yes I could use HomeBridge but I don’t trust Apple to not kill HomeBridge off at some point. Although the painfully slow evolution of HomeKit is gradually reducing my interest in any HomeKit support.

Other than some genuinely useful new features for HomeKit Secure Video, this year is not seeing any significant improvements in HomeKIt. Sadly I regard HomeKit Secure Video as being utterly crippled by its absolute limit of a mere five cameras no matter how rich you are. :frowning_face:

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Hi, any brand recommendation for pulse tetractive wall switches line? I think theyre great for automation, I found Retrotouch but seems they only work with 220v but in Mex we input 120v, any recommendation ?

What size are the switches that you need? Also are you looking for a rocker style, toggle style, or a pushbutton?

Here’s one discussion thread:

Seeking US product recommendations for a 3 position momentary wall switch for Fibaro Dimmer 2 or Aeotec Nano dimmer relays

Also if you are looking for a rocker switch, Zooz makes one specifically for this purpose

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